Bombardier's new CSeries may be a sophisticated new plane, but the manufacturer has built a wooden life-size model to help identify bugs that could lead to costly delays.
For four months, Bombardier has been using the model to give workers a hands-on feel to identify any problems.
"It's basically a confirmation process," Francois Minville, vice-president operations CSeries, said Tuesday during a tour of the Mirabel testing facility north of Montreal.
Some 45 experienced regional jet employees seconded to the program have used the structure to suggest 600 changes. It's the first time Bombardier has used a wooden model to complement computer models used to develop an aircraft.
Minville said he expects the model will reduce the learning curve by half.
"The learning is incredible and we'd rather have that than have surprises when we build the aircraft," he told analysts and media.
The world's third-largest aircraft manufacturer has also developed testing rigs that simulate actual flight situations such as pressure exerted on the composite wings. The large metal rig is expected to trim a year off actual flight testing to receive regulatory approvals.
The detailed efforts are being implemented to avoid the fate of larger rivals which have been stung by costly delays in delivering their aircraft.
The Quebec-based plane and train maker said it is not facing any major production delays that would prevent it from making its maiden flight by year-end.
"Yes, the CSeries program is on track,'' said Mike Arcamone, president of commercial aircraft, adding that Bombardier has found no serious problems that would thwart delivery of the first CSeries aircraft by the end of 2013.
Arcamone also said he's satisfied with orders to date.
"We are exactly where we want to be with 11 customers and 317 orders,'' he said at a conference ahead of the Farnborough International Airshow in July.
Arcamone said Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) would like to have 20 to 30 customers from around the world by launch, including more leasing companies.
Bombardier expects structures for the first test plane will be completed by the end of September to meet the timing for the first flight.
Bob Saia of Pratt & Whitney said that its new geared turbofan engine, which will be used in Bombardier's new CSeries, is on track for final validation by Transport Canada in the next three to four months. The engine has already undergone about 1,500 hours of testing.
He added that the engine's fuel efficiency is slightly better than promised.
Assembly for the Bombardier engine will be completed in Mirabel, north of Montreal. But Saia said Pratt hasn't yet decided where to assemble the engine that will be used in the Airbus A320/A319 NEO.
Walter Spracklin of RBC Capital Markets said the key risks for the CSeries are the engines, fly-by-wire systems and Chinese-made fuselages. He said assurances provided Tuesday minimize those potential problems.
"The key takeaways is that we got good affirmation and conviction that this is going to be an on-time project," he said in an interview.
The positive outlook lived up to his expectations.
However, Bombardier did nothing to manage expectations — as other manufacturers' have done — about meeting its production schedule, though being on time would also minimize any potential cost overruns, he added.
Earlier, Bombardier said it was decreasing its 20-year industry forecast for deliveries of small- and medium-size commercial aircraft due the global economic slowdown that has tempered the aerospace recovery.
It expects deliveries in the 20- to 149-seat category will fall by 2.3 per cent to 12,800 planes, worth US$630 billion. The main driver behind the decrease of 300 units is reduced growth in global gross domestic product, Bombardier said.
The Quebec-based manufacturer said more than 70 per cent of the demand in the next two decades is expected to come in the 100- to 149-seat category, which includes its CSeries.
Deliveries of those aircraft are expected to be worth US$449 billion between 2012 to 2031, with demand increasingly shifting to emerging markets.
Still, Bombardier believes it will capture half of the available 100- to 149-seat market. It expects more than half of the current global aircraft fleet to be replaced over the next 20 years, a slight increase from last year.
The latest market forecast includes oil price estimates of US$126 per barrel, up 18 per cent from last year's forecast. Fuel is the largest cost for airlines and a threat to their profitability.
The forecast for business jets is unchanged from last year at 24,000 units worth about US$648 billion.
Bombardier is the world's largest business jet manufacturer with a 38 per cent market share.
It expects 9,800 deliveries worth US$266 billion over the next decade and 14,200 deliveries worth US$382 billion between 2022 and 2031.